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What dads need to know about eating disorders

Maya Griffiths

Maya Griffiths

For parents of children with eating disorders daily life is a fretful struggle. Desperate for their children to be healthy, they maintain an uneasy balance between encouraging positive eating habits and not upsetting their child.

It’s incredibly difficult for parents of children with eating disorders to understand what their child is going through, let alone know what to say or do for the best. With between 1 and 3.5 million people (both male and female) in England suffering from an eating disorder, knowing the signs and what to do is important.

Think your child might have an eating disorder? Click here to access a FREE helpful toolkit for parents, including animations and informative resources.

What are the main eating disorders?


Possibly the most well-known eating disorder, anorexia causes sufferers to eat as little as possible and sometimes over-exercise. With not enough nutrients being consumed by the sufferer, they start to starve.

The sufferer’s view of their appearance is distorted, and they believe they are bigger than they really are. Anorexia sufferers will often miss meals and their periods may stop. They may also abuse laxatives in order to lose more weight, and might purge (vomit) on purpose.


Bulimia sufferers will often binge eat and then make themselves sick or use laxatives. They may also over-exercise. As for anorexia sufferers- those with bulimia aim to maintain as lowest weight as possible, and gaining weight is feared. Bulimia can cause a whole host of other physical problems over the long term, including fits, dental problems, and feeling weak.


With the rise of health and fitness content online, many young people find themselves becoming paranoid about what they’re eating and find themselves obsessed with only consuming super healthy foods. The idea of ‘clean eating’- i.e. eating only natural, wholesome foods has become commonplace. Food and diet influencers are a staple of social media, and through viewing their content impressionable young people can become obsessed with what are seen as ‘pure’ foods.

Orthorexia causes anxiety, guilt and an unhealthy obsession with food intake to the point that it takes over a sufferer’s life.

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED)

People with OSFED have an eating disorder but don’t meet all the criteria for one of the above diagnoses. They may, for example, display purging (vomiting and use of laxative) behaviours, but also have traits of anorexia or orthorexia.

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating patients find themselves feeling out of control about food, and can feel unable to stop eating even when they want to. Food becomes a way to hide from difficult feelings. The binge eating behaviour often leads to feelings of guilt and shame, leading to further distress.

What causes eating disorders?

There is no straight answer to what causes eating disorders. Instead, they are likely to be caused by a variety of factors. The causes for each person can be tricky to pinpoint. However, people with eating disorders often display some traits in common. These can include:

  • self-criticism
  • perfectionism
  • a lack of confidence
  • competitiveness
  • difficulty expressing themselves.

Traumatic life experiences can also lead to an eating disorder. This might include losing a loved one, being bullied, a history of abuse, or even just pressure at school.

Eating disorders can also be linked to other mental health problems, including anxiety or depression.

The role of social media in eating disorders is also considered a contributing factor. Bombarded with countless images of ‘perfection’, young people can feel that they don’t measure up, and become self-critical. This lack of self-esteem, perhaps mixed with some of the above difficulties, can result in disordered eating.

Myths about eating disorders

There can sometimes be misunderstandings about eating disorders, including:

  • it is the parent’s fault
  • it is just attention seeking
  • it is just a phase
  • dieting is a life choice
  • it is about losing weight
  • only white girls are anorexic.

Eating disorders must always be taken seriously and you should consult your GP if you are concerned about your child.

How to spot the signs

Eating disorders aren’t necessarily easy to spot, but some signs of an eating disorder are:

  • preoccupation with weight
  • withdrawing socially
  • exercising excessively
  • an obsessive pre-occupation with food
  • mood swings
  • secretive behaviour
  • anxiety and depression
  • weight loss
  • avoiding food
  • difficulty sleeping.

Think your child might have an eating disorder? Click here to access a FREE helpful toolkit for parents, including animations and informative resources.

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